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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Ulsan Orientation and Awareness Night

Saturday night I had the pleasure of speaking at the Ulsan Culture and Awareness Night at Benchwarmers Bar in Shinae. This evening of information is becoming yet another Ulsan tradition. My partner this time was not the legendary Troy MacDonald, but one of the trio of owners that now own Benchwarmers, Chris Mazeroll. During the course of the evening we shared much of our information about living and working in Ulsan. We also had Mr.Kim come down from the Royal Anchor and give a short talk as well and I will do my best to recap what he said as well.

What follows is a recap of what Chris and I basically said and plus a little more. I will try to add more links and phone numbers along the way.

Living in Ulsan

Over the years I have heard many bad things spoken about Ulsan. They said that it is dirty and polluted, these days I would have to disagree. The truth is that although Ulsan is not perfect, it is one of the most dynamic cities that I have ever lived in. In the time that I have been here, I have seen vast improvements in the city from parks to cleaning up the Taehwa River. I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the city officials and even they are open and willing to help the foreign community if they can. The biggest advice that I can pass on is:

ULSAN IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT

Too often people new to Ulsan, don’t take enough time to get to know the city and how good it actually is. Many of the people that you met at your EPIK orientation probably have been saying some pretty nasty things about this city, but just because you are not living in Seoul, Busan or Daegu, doesn’t mean you have it any worse than other cities. When I came here way back in 2003 there was nothing! Seriously, the Taehwa River really was polluted and the city offered nothing for a foreign resident. That meant that if we wanted to do something we banded together and did it ourselves. It was a great time! Every week night and weekend there was something to do. So get out there and enjoy the city. If you want to start a club or meet up with some people, do it! With social networking and Ulsan Online, there will be no doubt you can get a club or group up and running in no time. Simply put, don’t sit around complaining about how there is nothing to do here, but  take some initiative and start it yourself.

Home Sweet Home

This first month maybe a lean month, as Chris mentioned. You maybe a little strapped for cash but the best thing that you can do is try to make your new apartment your home. Make it yours and no others. That means, if you want to do a massive clean and dump do so asap! Get rid of crap that the last teacher left behind or fill it with your own. Trust me that when 99% of your surroundings are strange to you, having that 1% that is full of familiar things can save your sanity.

That may be tough in your first month but there are ways to become more comfortable here on the cheap. First, there is the street. That is right, the street. Many Koreans will leave perfectly good furniture on the street and it is perfectly fine to take it away. Fact is that they probably want you to because the proper way to dispose of furniture in Ulsan means calling the City and paying a fee to have it taken away.

Typically at the end of the month is a good time to start looking. Large apartments will have an area for recycling and sometimes they will have some good stuff there. Just be aware that the security guards may be curious if they see a foreigner rooting through the recycling.

There are also Used Furniture shops across the city. I believe that this is where some of the furniture that is “properly” taken away ends up. There are some just down from the Lotte Department Store towards the River, but usually they are found in most areas. Just look for the broken refridgerators and washing machines out front. It is best to take a Korean friend with you to negotiate a good deal and to set up delivery.

Ulsan also has a furniture street which is located near Hakseong Park. The easiest way to get there is to take the bus. Hakseong Bus stop is one of the larger bus stops in the city so a number of buses go there, check the listing here on Ulsan Online.

The main this that you want to do is either write down your address in Korean or have someone text it to your phone. Having it on your phone is an easy way to sent it to the delivery people. The word for delivery is “Taek-bay” and most furniture shops will deliver for free or for a minimal charge, but you must set up the time and give your address and phone number.

For anything else that you need from forks to pencils, ice trays to ice cream, 1000 won shops are the place to go! Stores like Diaso are amazingly cheap and have pretty much anything you need. Most areas will have something like the 1000 won shops just look for the sign as they will most likely have “1000 원” written somewhere on it.  You will also find the 1000 won sections in places like Home Plus and E-mart which are Korea’s versions of Tesco and Walmart.

Daiso is my favorite place and they are found in various locations around the city. Most prominent are the Shinae (across the street from New Core Outlet and near the landmark “shigae-top”) and the Shin-jeong location (Near the city hall and the shin-jeong Market). Both of these are multi-floor stores that are stacked to the ceiling with everything that you need for around 1,000 to 3,000 won. In truth they are a gold mine in those first few months.

One way to bond with your Co-teacher is to inquire about internet shopping. To be perfectly honest, Korean internet shopping is the best in the world. Things are cheap, service is great and the delivery takes at most a few days… that is right, I said days… not weeks.

Gmarket was bought by Ebay and thus now has a handy English site. While not perfect, it is a great asset to have. Payments can be made via bank transfer at any ATM (if you don’t want to use your credit card). Just make sure to get things delivered to your school as most of the delivery guys work during school hours. If it is too big, order late in the week and have it delivered on a Saturday when you are at home.

A Message From Mr.Kim

Mr. Kim, owner of The Royal Anchor, came down from his bar to give some words of advice to the new residents. Without trying to put words into his mouth, I will simply try and sum up what he said. Basically, he wanted to pass on the fact that having some older more established people in Ulsan is a good thing to have and I am happy that he mentioned that.

He related a story about some foreigners getting in trouble with their hogwan and the law. With a phone call to Mr. Kim, he was able to sort out the problems easily. This is a key that you must remember, Older Koreans have a higher status than the young and especially the men.

If you have any problems seek out Mr. Kim or make some friends including the guys at Benchwarmers. In some cases these friendships will last a lifetime and be helpful in more ways than one. I can think of numerous cases where friends of mine were in some serious situations and luckily they had some friends in high places come and help them out. It is just the way Korea works. The older and more established Koreans have more power than the 20-something foreigner or even the 30-something Korean co-teacher.

The last note I just want to add to this  is to be on your best behaviour… please. I know bad things happen but this is not a playground and you may find that your frat-boy antics could get you deported or even in a Korean jail. So just be careful and mature.

Safety 

This is probably the most important part of the entire night. For most of us, Ulsan can be a pretty safe place. However, there have been cases where some bad things have happened to foreigners. I don’t want to scare anybody but over the years they have been a number of unfortunate cases involving female English teachers. The media rarely reports them and this is quite tragic as most of your co-teachers and co-workers probably think that nothing like this ever happens in Ulsan, but it does.

The best this that you can do is to keep your guard up at all times. We often get lulled into a false sense of security here but Ulsan is like any other city in the world. There are bad people here and they can do bad things.

We talked about building relationships with older Koreans, this is one place where it becomes indispensable. If you don’t feel safe in your apartment, a relationship with your landlord can help get an electric door lock and the bars repaired on your windows.

Also, get to know the local mart cashier or corner store person. If you are walking home and you think someone is following you then you can head there and an existing relationship with them will be beneficial. It could mean the difference between a blank stare and them calling the police.  This also means getting to know your area better. Having an idea of the potential danger zones on your walk home or places to go to in you feel that you are in danger can give you a lot more piece of mind, especially in a new city.

Especially if you live on the first and second floors of your apartment buildings, please lock your doors at all times! It is not even just for the bad guys, door-to-door sales people and religious-types will typically check the door before hitting the doorbell. If it is open they will walk right in.

If you have an intercom, USE IT! You may have noticed that your apartment’s front door is open and that gives anyone the freedom to knock on your door. Most apartments will have a small camera that allows you to see the person at the door. Please use it and don’t just open the door for anybody. It isn’t even just for potential rapists either. Korea still has a lot of door-to-door sales people and religious groups that knock on doors during the daytime and especially on weekends. They are tough to get rid of and can be problematic if they try and push past you to get into your place.

If you don’t want to talk to them, Benchwarmers has stickers that are written in Korean and English that informs the person that if they want to contact you, they have to call a number (of your choice). This was a great idea put together by former Benchwarmers owner Troy MacDonald. That way, even if it is the gas lady, they have to call your Korean friend or co-teacher first. If you don’t want them to know that there is a waygook living there, cut off the English part before sticking it to your door. Benchwarmers has these at the bar, so you can just head down there and ask for a few, they are free and generously given out.

If you have a late night out, share a cab with friends. Most taxis drivers here are decent enough but there have been cases where they have gotten a little too friendly with an inebriated passenger. Just use your head and save yourself and some cash by splitting the cab.

The other thing that you should realize is that the Ulsan police are extremely helpful and kind during these difficult times. If you should find yourself a victim call the police immediately (the number is 112, not 911). They can speak some English and will help you. I wrote about it before here, and included a lot more helpful information and emergency numbers there. Please take the time to read it if you can.

Lastly, for the guys, in Korea you are more likely guilty until proven innocent. In cases regarding fights, the person who punched first is usually the person charged, regardless of the circumstances. Trying to be the knight in shining armor here will not always get you the accolades that you are expecting. Also remember that there is still a stigma of negativity towards male foreigners here thanks to the actions of some American soldiers (not all) and this stigma increases when Koreans see a foreign male in a fight with a Korean. No matter the consequences, no matter who started it, it will never end pretty for you and so it is best that you mind your own business and if someone is getting in your face, just walk away.

Guess What? You’re a teacher!

For many new residents, the main reason why you came here is to be a teacher, right? So the best thing to do is to remember that even though you might only work 22 hours a week or you may not get up before 12 pm on week days, you still have a job to do and people are paying you to perform at your best.

Public schools are taking in numerous teachers now and the best thing that you can do is to follow their rules and do your best. The following is my advice from my years teaching in a Public School and hogwans.

Public Schools

First, get to know your fellow teachers and not just the ones that teach English. Many times other teachers can speak English and want to get to know you. So it pays to have friends at your school. Trust me, you will feel less like an outcast if you make some friends there.

Be nice your co-teacher or “handler” as I like to call them. The ones I am talking about are the ones that are directly in charge of you and are there to help you. They are a great asset to have but also should not be over used. They have their own lives to live and are not really in charge of solving your day to day problems, but most would gladly help you anyway. Just keep in mind during these times that they are not your helper and it is not their job to take care of you, your boyfriend or the cat that you found on the street. So, try and be kind to them. If they give you 110% and help you move in, get your phone set up, take you shopping and sort out your laundry, show your appreciation. ** This weekend is Chuseok or Korean Thanksgiving, a nice gift would be a great way to say thank you**

Communication is a big thing when building relationships and sadly some of your co-teachers are not that good at it. Information may come last minute or not at all, but the simple thing is just to roll with it. if you can initiate communication, that is better. I like to use the schools messenger system (cool box) with my teachers. It gives them time to answer and most times they are not as self conscious of their English abilities.

If you do have problems, don’t be too confrontational. Please, try to be understanding even if they are not. Too often the fight between the foreign teacher and the Korean teacher has done nothing but tarnish the reputation on all foreign teachers in Ulsan and then, when a new teacher arrives, they have to deal with that situation and the animosity that follows. If you treat your co-teacher like a human being and build a strong relationship with them, it will give you the freedom to focus on your teaching and the confidence that is a problem comes up that they have your back.

Typically, on your first pay day, bring your co-teacher or office a small gift like a cake or something from the bakery. This always goes over well and helps break down the barriers a bit. If they need help with something do your best, they will appreciate it.

Also, this is the start of the new term so expect to go out for dinner with the school. Nobody really likes to do these dinners but they are mandatory and some of the time you have to pay a bit for them. When you are new, I would advise you to endure them. At least for the first few hours. Normally they will head to a seafood restaurant (or something other than what 90% of the teachers “don’t” like to eat) then after massive amounts of drinking you will head to a karaoke room (norae-bong) for some late night singing. This was originally meant to bond the teachers together but unless you really like raw seafood and soju, most of the time it is a tad awkward for the new foreign teacher.

The last thing I will say about public schools is that you are going to enter a room with anywhere from 30 to 40 students. You can’t be a friend to them all. So it is best to start out a little cold and then have them warm up to you. I always start the year of with a few lessons on my rules and expectations of my class. I enforce the rules strictly and I draw clear lines as to what to do and what not to do in the class. I get my co-teacher to help with these as well.

Ryan Mochrie made a great comment stating that “You have friends your own age” and I think that is something that everyone needs to realize when they first start teaching in a public school. Some students will hate you, some will treat you like some sort of strange animal, but there will be a lot that want to learn and find your classes interesting. The best that you can do is do your job well and have fun. The students will feed off of your energy and fall in line eventually. Don’t try and win them over or be that “cool teacher” that is friends with all the students. Your students are smart and they want the easiest class they can get. You will quickly find yourself an enemy if you spend the first few months playing games and trying to win them over and then have to crack the whip to get them to study for their mid-term exam.

Hogwans

Hogwans are a tricky business and I mean that in more ways than one. If you are starting out in a hogwan you must remember that they are a business FIRST and a language school SECOND. Again, having clear and defined rules and expectations in the classroom is a must. Even though your class sizes are smaller than at a public school (around 10 or less) don’t think that you have it any easier.

Hogwans want to fill the seats and then teach English. So if your attitude is sending students running for their mom, you might have some problems. Communication works the same as at the public schools, the more you have the better it will be. Sometimes the owners can’t speak a lot of English, so it is best to have one of your co-workers on your side, should their be any problems.

The better relationship that you have with your school the better, but remember that they are a business. Also remember that each Hogwan is different. Some are a part of a huge chain and thus rules and management is handed down from offices in Seoul. Others are smaller and only run by a family. Either way, how you handle yourself around the higher-ups with determine your level of job satisfaction.

I truly hope that your stay here in Ulsan is a great one.  I also would like to thank Chris and the guys at Benchwarmers for hosting another informative evening. If you have any questions or comments, please put them in the space below. I tried to summarize what was said as best that I could and add in what I probably forgot to say. If I forgot what myself or Chris had said, I apologize greatly but I hope that you can pull some useful information out of this article.  Also note that there is a ton of information on this site that can help you and a few moments of searching here will lead to a wealth of knowledge about Ulsan save you a few headaches as well.

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